Thursday Contras Timeline
1978: The Original Series is Born
Tod Whittemore writes, in the June 1990 edition of At The Hop, his newsletter:
“On a cold Thursday night in February of 1978, dancers, Rod and Randy Miller, and Tod Whittemore were waiting in the lobby at the Cambridge YWCA for the aerobics class to end. At the stroke of 9pm we rushed into the hall to set up the sound equipment and tune up, while the dancers changed out of their winter clothes. At 9:10 the first Thursday Night Dance began. …
“Soon the dance grew to overflowing at the ‘Y’. It became apparent that we needed a bigger hall. Jack O’Connor mentioned a great hall, a VFW hall in North Cambridge. His tip led to the current hall the dance is in. We moved in September 1982 after a couple of trial dances the preceding spring.”-Tod Whittemore, At The Hop
Dancers in the Boston area are indebted to Tod for founding a landmark dance series. Driven by Tod’s energy, charisma, and sense of fun infusing the dance, the series became quite popular.
“Looking back over the Thursday Night Dance history elicits many stirring and fond memories. At least as important as the incredible music and great calling, are the many friendships that have blossomed over the years…Dancing, and in particular the Thursday Night Dances, have been an important aspect of my life, and I hope made a significant contribution to dancing in Boston, and I hope they will be remembered fondly by the historians of the dance.
“At the beginning, I promised myself when the desire to continue diminished, I would bow out gracefully. That time has come. It is a difficult decision. The truth is that I feel that I don’t have the energy it takes to sustain the effort required to produce a dance series or a dance evening that is equal to the standard historically established at Thursday Night Dance and other dances in the area. So June 14th  will be the last Thursday Night dance that I call as producer of the Thursday Night Dances. I’m sure that it will be a bittersweet evening.”-Tod Whittemore, At The Hop
And it was. The hall was packed to the rafters with people wanting to express appreciation and bid a farewell to Tod. That summer, he worked at a dude ranch in Wyoming. (Tod is now married, and after living for some years in Tucson, Arizona, is now back in the Northeast, living in Connecticut.)
1990: NEFFA Takes on the Dance!
When he decided to stop the dance, Tod had no plans for the future of the series, but it became evident that a small group of dancers wanted to keep the dance alive. In that group were Steve Boylan, Cal Howard, Larry Jennings, Leslie Morrison, Dan Pearl, John Rowen, and Ernie Spence. The committee saw benefit to running the dance under the auspices of a non-profit organization. NEFFA, The New England Folk Festival Association, with which Dan, Larry, and Leslie were associated, was a natural choice.
The committee presented its proposal to NEFFA, and the Thursday Night Dance Committee was formed, with Dan Pearl as Chair, and NEFFA President Lisa Greenleaf as ex officio member.
Under its admistration, the TNDC has seen the dance resurge in popularity. Nowadays, it’s typical to see 170 to 230 people at the dance (our record attendance is over 400).
On July 17, 1997, the committee honored its long-time booking agent and administrator, Larry Jennings, for his contributions to our series. Twelve callers (some travelling thousands of miles to attend), called a program of dances that either were written by Larry or have served to inspire him. The callers were effusive in their praise of Larry, who was delighted by the appreciation of the 260 people in attendance.
On September 7, 2000 we celebrated our tenth anniversary with free admission for all and special refreshments. The entire committee got on stage and enjoyed the appreciative applause of the crowd.
On June 29, 2005, Larry Jennings passed away. He will be missed by the world of dance.
January 2006: The Dance Moves to Springstep
In Spring 2005, we found out that the VFW hall, home to contra dancing for almost a quarter of a century, was going to be sold to the City of Cambridge and would be renovated into a youth center. The future existence of the function hall was in doubt, but was being fought for by a large grass-roots effort. In the meantime, we arranged for the dances to continue at Springstep Center in Medford. Our final dance at the VFW was December 29th, 2005. It was quite a party! Over 400 people attended (probably a record attendance for contra dancing in that hall!) and enjoyed the music of Nat Hewitt, Jaige Trudel, Adam Broome, and John Cote, and the calling of committee members Sue, Nell, Dan and Lisa.
Springstep, while providing a place for the dance to continue, did not meet the needs of our dance series. An informal survey conducted by Lisa Greenleaf revealed several interesting things about what dancers need and didn’t care for, and with this data in mind, we decided to move the dance to the Concord Scout House starting in August 2006. (Springstep challenging financial situation resulted in their closing in 2013.)
August 2006: Thursdays at the Scout House
We have settled into our residence at the Scout House, and with BIDA dances satisfying the in-town dance urge, we do not anticipate moving.
We appreciate the support the dancers have given us as we have gone on our relocation spree.
The committee has strived to provide a fun New England-style dance that features high quality local and touring performers, as well as providing a venue for newer, talented individuals to get some exposure. The all-volunteer TNDC, now consisting of Dan Pearl, Lisa Greenleaf, Sue Rosen, Dereck Kalish and Tee Huffaker takes an active hand in the conduct of the dance. We strive to offer a dance where all are welcome, and that everyone dances with everyone in all parts of the hall.
The Musicians and Callers
We like to feature a blend of local and touring callers and musicians. Even though we feel very confident and blessed with gifted local talent, touring performers bring spontaneity and variety to our dance. It’s incredible how New England style dance has spread around the country and the world, and we enjoy tapping into the talent that has developed away from New England.
Occasional multi-caller “NEFFA Contra” evenings present a variety of callers, some experienced and some just cutting their teeth.
The dancers, musicians, and caller form a mystical triangle that manufactures fun, friendship, and energy. People come from great distances to attend our dance. It makes no difference whether the dancers come from across the street or from out of state; it’s great to have them here adding to the fun.
We now offer a pre-dance intro session at 7:10pm.